Journey to Somewhere

Posted in Serious Fun on November 10, 2009

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Everyone seems to have a great "first time" story about Magic. Whether it's in somewhere around school, a friend who wanted you to try it out, or even on a whim at 30,000 feet, our first memory of Magic is something that many of us hold dear. However, like many things in my life, I don't have an epic story about when I discovered Magic. I know that my buddy showed me at lunch one day and that, somehow, I ended up walking away with a Kjeldoran Dead card (I still have it).

I more clearly recall sharing cards, which I soon inherited outright, with another friend, as well as buying a Tempest Starter Pack, a bit expensive for me at the time, and finding that one of my rares was Duplicity (which I don't have anymore). From there the story is a relatively boring mish mash of "got out of it but kept my cards" and "came back to entirely new sets of cards" and, eventually, "found a home to play Magic every week." It's a touching, if clichéd and common, story.

But what I hope is infinitely more interesting is a small showcase of the decks I have on hand, a veritable doorway into my world with Magic. I'm laying down on the black leather sofa chair; time to share my story.

EDH, What All the Cool Kids Play

As a self-proclaimed "casual junky and EDH fanatic" I wouldn't be caught slinging cards without an EDH deck or two, or three—or four, as I have on hand, with five and six potentially hovering out in the wings of my mind to follow through on. Elder Dragon Highlander is, arguably, the most popular casual format after the "fun Magic decks made with whatever cards I have on hand" format. It's grown at a rapid pace and really shines as the place to not only play weird cards everyone's forgotten, but cast the biggest spells and swing with the fattest fatties. It's always a blast.

Many of us have pet cards and, similarly, those who play a lot of EDH often have a pet general they love. Mine happens to be the deceptively strong Kresh the Bloodbraided. Let your eyes feast on the gory details of the deck I have on hand (as of writing this) for him:

Kresh the Bloodbraided

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (2)
1 Garruk Wildspeaker 1 Sarkhan Vol
99 Cards

Like any larger-than-60-card deck there is a lot going on here. This deck is constantly evolving and changing but stays true to its core goals: steal dudes, swing hard, and create opportunities to make Kresh as big as possible. I'm sure there're quite a few really "sick" things I could do with Kresh, or the Jund colors of black-red-green, it's not what I'm directly after. This deck is entirely based on pushing the things I love to do to the greatest extreme I can manage inside of 100 cards.

Yes, I can hear the echoes of "Doubling Season!" and "Akroma's Memorial!" from here, but I've learned, the hard way (repeatedly), that laying down powerful permanents generally paints a large target on my head. Instead I prefer to swallow up my coolness factor by keeping my fun shenanigans hidden in my hand: red creature stealing effects and black Zombify-style effects are almost always awesome in games where everyone is playing awesome creatures. Pairing these effects up to multiple sacrifice outlets ensures that I always have a way to dispose of the creature while pumping Kresh (and having a way around tough critters like Spearbreaker Behemoth—yikes!). It's a simplistic but brutal approach that captures everything I think of when I first saw Kresh: he's here, now, in your face, and growing ever stronger with each battle until he becomes an unstoppable force unto himself!

Besides, nothing is more fun for me than throwing down Insurrection with Altar of Dementia in play. Simply. Brutal.

"Things Kings Own" for $400

I could spend every article talking about distinct Magic formats and probably avoid repetition for far more than a year. One of the formats that I first fell in love with has been mentioned very irregularly here on the site so I'm going to take the opportunity to give this format some well-overdue justice.

Format: Peasant Magic

In Brief: You build a deck without rares and mythic rares, and only up to five uncommons.

Rules Rundown: The brief pretty much sums it up: commons make up the bulk of your deck, with only five uncommons total.

While the format has, unfortunately, faded away in recent years, the most recent rules information detailed a list of cards that were banned from the format. For consistency with last known information I will list them here: Ali from Cairo, Bazaar of Baghdad, Berserk, Brain Freeze, Candelabra of Tawnos, Diamond Valley, Juzám Djinn, Library of Alexandria, Mana Drain, and Mishra's Workshop. Most of these cards aren't the cards every player has on hand so plug away at your decks!

Pros: Sometimes there is a pretty clear disparity between the cards available to one player versus another player. By restricting the card pool, deck creativity goes up and players with smaller collections can get in on the action easier since the rules for making a deck are all there is to it.

Since the decks are almost completely commons it's very easy to build an extra deck or two without limiting the availability of your cards. I've seen homebrewed versions built on the "X vs. Y" Duel Decks concept featuring some strange cards and awesome fun.

Cons: Peasant was, originally, a fairly competitive format and as such may draw some of the more unfun approaches to playing Magic. Believe me when I tell you that Brain Freeze is banned for a reason. As long as you're getting back to the very essence of Magic, making decks that are fun to play, there shouldn't be an issue.

While a restricted card pool encourages creativity, certain commons and uncommons (like Rancor and Strip Mine) are nearly as powerful as rares and are often very difficult to track down reasonably. The potential for a huge collection differential between longtime players and brand new players to interfere with creative deck building is fairly high. For best results the emphasis shouldn't be to make the "best" decks but to see what you can cook up with a mottled collection of Sealed or Draft pools, find rolling around in a miscellaneous pile of cards, or have given to you by a friend.



When I mention playing Magic weekly I'm referring directly to the very organized group of twenty or thirty players (or so, give or take some on any given week) who gather to play casual Magic every Thursday. We have special formats or variants on a two-month rotation to help provide some direction for us to all come with something similar in mind. Peasant Magic was the first such "Fabled Format" that I was directed to. I would share what deck I made first, but I have a dark secret about this. Recall above when I said that Brain Freeze is banned for a reason? Well, we all made Peasant decks without worry for the banned list and I tapped into my Johnny/Spike and created a milling combo monstrosity that could deck an entire eight-multiplayer game at once. (Yes, all seven opponents, and no, I won't disclose exactly how I did it: I feel bad enough already.)

Brain Freeze

Feeling guilty for violating a cardinal commandment for my play group ("Thou shalt not create evil combo kill decks.") I headed back to the drawing board and instead now carry this around from time to time:

A Token Appreciation

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Since the weekly games are generally all multiplayer I took some thought to bringing serious damage to the board. By combining several of my favorite things (mana ramping, burn, big dudes, and making tokens) I was able to develop a solid footing to both swing and keep some defense back: certainly a nice position to hold in multiplayer. Whenever I need a random deck for multiplayer this is usually one of my first options out of the bag.

Gearing Up with Training Wheels

While I love EDH and found my Magic delight in Peasant, perhaps the deck that makes me smile the most is a very different sort of deck. It's a Peasant deck but wasn't built for Peasant—it was built with simple elegance, poise, character, and consistency in mind. This is the deck that I will never take apart despite the fact that it's probably my weakest deck and every card in it is white-bordered.

This deck is the deck I use to show people how to play Magic.

In the Black

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No fancy tricks. No secret goals. No pomp, puff, or frills. Just a straight up mono black deck built to play Magic. I can drain your life, kill your dudes, bring back my fallen, and show how black serves itself as number one. Like a bike with training wheels, the buffs in life, returning creatures to the hand from the graveyard, and ability to make a creature get big help keep this deck going in games where other decks would have fallen apart.

Bog Imp
Hollow Dogs

While I could have made this deck with white or green cards I felt that black, as a color, has something that appeals to everyone. You get to attack with big creatures (Hollow Dogs, Looming Shade), have fun with zombies (Festering Goblin, Gravedigger), kill creatures outright (Dark Banishing), or bring forth a favored familiar (Bog Imp). Dripping with flavor from nearly every angle, there's just something reassuring about a deck that is easy to understand but has just enough cool stuff to "get there" easily.

The Road is already Cleared and Paved

I hope this journey down a taste of the decks I have built will serve as my formal introduction. I believe that a lot can be said about someone by the kinds and ways they build Magic decks. What do you see in these decks? What kind of player am I? Take the clues and be the psychoanalyst; I'll be ready to hear what you think and see what decks you'll bring bringing to tables.

Bonus Reader Response Time

And if I left you wondering whether I'll be reading your feedback I want to stress that I most certainly will be reading it, at the very least to keep a tally of when I hit the nail on the head or had the hammer take a bite out of me.

I read this question from Gabe in the response forum thread for last week's article:


Dude. I just got my first Planechase cards today and they. are. AWESOME. I know Kelly Digges wrote, like, one article about it, but Planechase seems right up the alley for 'Serious Fun.' If you happen to play any Planechase games I'd love to hear your take on it. Good article, by the way! I look forward to reading more from you.


For starters, Gabe, thank you! As for Planar Magic itself, I have to agree: Planechase is seriously, seriously fun. I won't steal my own thunder here, but I will say that you'll be getting a taste of my experience with Planechase soon enough. I feel it's important to point out, however, that while each set of planes comes with a deck that matches up, I have found that mixing and matching different planes (to get my target of at least a 10-plane planar deck) and pairing them with a deck of my own design has been on a whole different level of fun. Having three to five players all vying to not just play their decks but wrest control of the current plane makes for some seriously fun times. Keep on chasing the planes, Gabe. I know I will!

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